Viewpoint

Connect with culture this weekend, and boost economic mobility

An array of cultural offerings are available for free on Friday and Saturday through the ASC’s Connect with Culture Day.
An array of cultural offerings are available for free on Friday and Saturday through the ASC’s Connect with Culture Day. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

We know that many children living in low-opportunity neighborhoods or attending high-poverty schools don’t have consistent access to experiences that allow them to see what’s possible in their lives beyond their current circumstances.

It was one of the sobering realities made clear in the Opportunity Task Force recommendations to improve economic mobility in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

We also know that providing children and their families with opportunities to broaden their horizons is one of the many strategies the task force recommends in creating a community that cares about all of its youth – regardless of income, race or ZIP code – and one where all children feel they belong, have big dreams and find the necessary support to achieve those dreams.

Those are exactly the types of opportunities ASC and the cultural community are providing across Charlotte-Mecklenburg Friday night and Saturday with the return of Connect with Culture Day. The day features more than 70 free and diverse arts, science, history and heritage experiences taking place throughout Mecklenburg County.

Families can witness a social circus created by underrepresented artists that blends physical theater, dance and acrobatics. They can try their hand at making pottery or learn a Chinese folk dance. Young children get to experience a story time reading with a ballerina of color from Charlotte Ballet.

Robert-Bush
Robert Bush NANCY PIERCE

While that might not seem like a big deal, children being able to see professionals that look like them do amazing things opens up a world of possibilities.

We are not saying one weekend of cultural programming comes close to shrinking the enormous opportunity gap that exists in our community.

What we are saying is that community-wide efforts like Connect with Culture Day are important in making residents aware of the cultural resources and opportunities available to them while shining a light on the sustained, community-focused efforts already happening in the cultural community, from Charlotte Ballet’s Reach program that makes quality dance training accessible for children closer to where they live to local artist Rosalia Torres-Weiner’s mobile art truck that delivers hands-on arts experiences directly to communities that need her the most.

In fact, this weekend will give participants the chance to experience programs by a host of cultural organizations and providers whose work helps build social capital – the relationships and networks people have that connect them to opportunities.

Part of that means getting out of your bubble and sampling a cultural experience, for free, which may be out of your comfort zone, and we challenge you to use the weekend as a way to try a new cultural experience that challenges you.

We know from the 2017 Cultural Life in Mecklenburg County Survey conducted by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute that location and cost are two of the top three barriers to cultural participation (the top barrier is time). This weekend is one way the cultural community is seeking to address those barriers.

More importantly, Connect with Culture Day is everyone’s opportunity to meet and connect with our neighbors, whether they live next door or across town.

Bush is president of the Arts & Science Council. Visit ArtsAndScience.org for details.

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